Some people prefer to sing on a stage, and get a round of applause. Others care about privacy and sing at home, when no one’s listening. There are people who like to write their name next to online comments they post, others prefer to hide it.
Privacy refers to activities you keep to yourself, or to a limited group of people, whereas anonymity implies letting others see what you do, without them seeing who did it.
Privacy and anonymity are, therefore, different concepts, but they should all be fundamental rights. Whether you’re browsing the web, sending an email or chatting with someone, you should feel free to express yourself without the pressure to self censor yourself due to the fear of being watched or identified in a crowd.
More and more people become aware of the importance of guarding online privacy and anonymity. 92 percent of the Americans care about privacy, according to TRUSTe. Another research, carried out by the Youth IGF Project, shows that two thirds of the people that communicated online over the course of a year did so without revealing their identity at least on one occasion.
More than half of internet users have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organizations, or the government, a Pew Research Center study shows. Also, 86 percent have removed or masked their digital footprints—from clearing cookies and encrypting their email, to avoiding using their name or masking their IP address.
A solid and trustworthy VPN service comes in handy for those who care about their privacy. At VPN.ac, we strive to give you this human right back. We protect against eavesdroppers and some types of attackers, and we can also spoof your IP address, to appear that you’re browsing from another location.
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However, it’s a myth that VPNs grant anonymity. Truth be told, those claiming to provide online anonymity only say it for marketing purposes. No VPN service can help you be completely anonymous, and those who state it cannot meticulously back the claim.
A powerful enough organization can expose the real identity of users through several methods: tapping internet traffic, exploiting vulnerabilities in network/server infrastructures to exfiltrate data, correlate payments, inject attack vectors into network traffic, make use of rogue employees and so on. A VPN service is a single point of failure who you are trusting with your online traffic. Relying on single points of failures for anonymity is, in most cases, a mistake.
Online anonymity isn’t something that’s black or white. There are several degrees, depending on how powerful your opponent is. The question is: who do you want to protect yourself against? If you want to be anonymous while browsing the web, for the websites you visit, then even a dynamic IP from your ISP or one that's used by others (e.g. Carrier-grade NAT or a public network) might just do the trick, given the fact that it can be quite hard for the common website owners to match an IP to a person.
If your threat model includes powerful actors such as the NSA, govermental organizations, state-sponsored attackers, then you need to walk an extra mile - and it won't be an easy ride. In this case, it's best to use Tor on top of your VPN. This is important, as we’ve learnt that the FBI can spy on Tor users and does not need a warrant for that and it's safe to assume that the Tor network is and will continue to be a de facto target for such organizations.
If you use Tor on top of VPN, you have an additional protection layer for your IP address: in case there's a weakness in the Tor protocol, the odds are that the exposed source IP address will be the one of the VPN gateway. This is no longer a single point of failure scenario and it increases the difficutly on getting the real IP of the end-user.
Some might say they don’t need to hide their online activity, because they don't do anything wrong. Well, neither does that person who sings alone in the shower.
Further reading: Important privacy measures for VPN users